By Mike Hoppis
I yelled to Mike, “What did Jordan say”! “I’ve got a dead Oryx” was Mike’s reply.
This hunt, like many others, was years in the making and almost didn’t happen. You see, working for the State of California, I was forced to take three furloughs per month and wasn’t going to apply for the Oryx hunts on the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) for the first time in over ten years due to finances. Then on the last day of the application period for the 2010/2011 hunts, I decided I wasn’t going to let a year pass without applying. I mean the odds were long and I more than likely wasn’t going to get drawn anyway. Wrong! I drew a tag for February 2011 on the Stallion Range and wasn’t sure if I should be happy or very concerned about the big chunk of change I had just spent on the tag. Well, I decided I was going to be happy and what the heck, I had ten months to save for the hunt, so game on!
After talking to the head Wildlife Biologist on the WSMR, Gilbert Villegas and some past hunters of the Stallion Range, I decided to acquire the services of an outfitter for this once-in-a-lifetime hunt. My first call was to Tim Barraclough of Kiowa Hunting Services out of Raton, New Mexico (575-445-9330 or www.kiowahunting.com). Tim runs an outfit that hunts for elk, mule deer, pronghorn, Oryx, Barbary sheep, whitetail, Merriam and Rio Grande turkey and hogs in New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma. Kiowa Hunting Service has been operating as a full service hunting organization for over 23 years. After talking to Tim I was sold, but I still called other outfitters just to cover all my bases. I also called some of Tim’s references and after getting rave reviews from all of Tim’s past hunters my decision was made and I would be hiring Tim and hunting with his son, Mike Barraclough.
My 11 year old son, Hunter, would be making the long drive to the WSMR with me and we decided to take off three days early to give us some time to do a little coyote management in the deserts of southern New Mexico, which also was a great decision and a lot of fun!
On Saturday morning, the first day of the two day hunt, Mike picked Hunter and myself up and we headed for the WSMR and the ever important check-in and mandatory orientation. With everything in order it was time to be set loose upon the Stallion Range. The Oryx 500, the mad dash from the main parking lot, was not near as eventful as I thought it might be. Just a lot of dust and I probably would have been one of those hunters in a big hurry had I not entrusted my hunt to Tim and Mike. We calmly loaded up into Mike’s truck and headed for some of his favorite glassing spots, while seeing a few Oryx on the way.
Upon arriving at our first spot, we were soon looking at Oryx through our optics. Every one of Mike’s spots turned up Oryx and some good trophies, but let me tell you, these animals have great eyesight and an even greater sixth sense of impending danger. I mean, these Oryx would for apparently no good reason just decide to start walking strait away from us even though they hadn’t seen or smelled us. We were in Oryx all day and had opportunities at some decent animals, but were holding out for something special. Mike was showing Hunter and I a great time in the desert and his knowledge of the land and the Oryx that called this place home was fantastic!
Mid-day arrived and we headed to a knob in the middle of this, pretty much flat land to glass and do a BBQ lunch. While Mike set up the grill, Hunter and I set up the optics. We spotted some Oryx in the distance and watched them as we ate. Mike said there were a couple of very nice animals in the herd, so we kept an eye on them. A passing truck pushed them out farther from us, but Mike said there was another road that we could take to try and cut the Oryx off. After eating we jumped in the truck and headed out to see if we could spot the Oryx from the other road. We quickly found them and Mike planned a stalk.
One of Mike’s apprentice guides had joined us and dropped Mike and I off to stalk the Oryx and then he and Hunter headed back to our lunch spot to keep an eye on the herd. Mike and I got on the herd pretty quickly and determined that there was a very nice animal in the mix. Now let me tell you, stalking in this flat desert country is tough going. We snuck from cactus to cactus and from Yucca to Yucca closing the distance very slowly while trying to stay hidden from so many eyes. It was evident that we weren’t going to get very close, so when the big one walked out into a small opening, Mike set up the shooting sticks and called out the range at 285 yards! The Oryx was walking broadside slowly to the right when I took my first shot, a clean miss! The Oryx spun around and was now standing broadside facing to the left. I placed the crosshairs behind the shoulder, wrong place to aim at an Oryx, as their vitals are much farther forward than our North American big game animals and squeezed. Mike called out the hit and said to get ready to shoot again!
Now the ensuing mess was just that, a mess! Trying to pick out my Oryx from a fleeing herd was crazy for me, but Mike kept a calm head and tried his best to single out my animal to me as they ran through the desert flora. I hit the big Oryx two more times with little effect. When the experts say these animals are tough, they aren’t kidding!! I was using my custom built 7mm STW pushing 160 grain Nosler Accubonds and this Oryx was not impressed. Luckily, Hunter and the apprentice guide did their best to keep an eye on the herd as the animals headed across the desert. Mike and I also did our best tracking the herd, but found very little blood and had to just follow tracks. With help from Hunter and the apprentice guide we determined that my Oryx had broke from the herd and Mike and I got on the single set of tracks and did our best until near dark. We had gone about two miles from my first shot, but had to call it a day due to the rules of the WSMR stating that all hunting parties had to be off range before dark. On our way out we let Gilbert know we had a wounded Oryx and he gave us permission to bring in another tracker, Jordan Christensen, with us in the morning.
As everyone that has left a wounded animal overnight knows it was a sleepless night for me. Our group hit the Stallion Range gate early Sunday morning with high hopes of finding my Oryx. We picked up the tracks where Mike and I had left them the night before and spread out. Mike and I did our best to stay with the tracks as the rest of the crew started circling out in front of us making wider and wider sweeps. Without finding any blood, I was starting to worry we were on the wrong tracks and I was feeling sick when excitedly Mike repeated Jordan’s words, “I’ve got a dead Oryx”! A huge smile came over my face as I ran towards Jordan and came upon such a beautiful site. Hunter soon joined me at the downed Oryx and the hugs, high fives and handshakes began!
My Oryx ended up being just short of 40 inches on each horn and scored 92 2/8, a full 4 inches bigger than any Oryx taken on this hunt and is number 28 in the Safari Club International Record Book for Free Range Oryx.
I would like to give a big thank you to Tim and Mike Barraclough of Kiowa Hunting Services. Their knowledge of the WSMR and the Oryx that call the base home was exceptional! I would also like to thank Oryx expert extraordinaire Gilbert Villegas and Oryx finding expert, Jordan Christensen of Wild Mountain Taxidermy for helping out on our once-in-a lifetime dream hunt!